- Neil Tardy, Fantasy Basketball
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The slam dunk contest lived up to expectations. (Krypto-Nate is crazy!) The trading deadline did not. Still, between the trades that did go down and the injuries that are piling up, a few players have newfound fantasy value. With a huge Week 18 ahead -- 22 teams have four games -- you'll want to explore all available options. The forecast calls for a flurry of choices, particularly at the point-guard position. Let's get to it.
Check the grid for Week 18 schedules of each NBA team. Teams with the most games in the upcoming week are listed first.
Houston Rockets (POR, CLE, @CHI, @MIN): The Rockets have been chasing Kyle Lowry since he came into the league three years ago. And now that the kid has finally landed in Houston, you should probably chase Aaron Brooks. After this week's trade of Rafer Alston, Brooks is the guy who knows the system, the guy who's been finishing Houston's games of late and the guy who will probably start at the point, at least for now. While his career 40.6 field goal percentage is a concern, with 30 or so minutes a night Brooks seems capable of averaging around 2.0 3-pointers. That makes Brooks -- who's available in 96 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- worth adding in leagues of at least 12 teams. This schedule doesn't point to a lot of 3s, though, as the Blazers', Cavs', Bulls' and Timberwolves' opponents all rank in the league's bottom 12 in triples made.
Indiana Pacers (@NY, MEM, @BOS, DEN): Danny Granger is out for a while and Mike Dunleavy could be out for the rest of the season. That leaves a sizable void that Marquis Daniels will need to help fill. Recall that the veteran averaged 16.4 points and 6.5 rebounds in November while starting in place of Dunleavy. Recall too the mention of Jarrett Jack in last week's Forecaster. He was starting already, but the Pacers' shorthandedness should only make him more integral to the offense. At 80-plus percent availability, Jack is now a prime get in ESPN.com leagues. (Daniels, by comparison, is available in 60 percent of leagues.) Either is a good spot play with this schedule. While Knicks and Grizzlies opponents are third and fourth, respectively, in shooting percentage, Celtics and Nuggets opponents are 30th and 27th in this category.
San Antonio Spurs (DAL, POR, CLE, @POR): Roger Mason filled in nicely when Manu Ginobili missed the season's first month, so now that Ginobili is again out for an extended period, Mason should be on your radar. That said, Mason -- who's available in 70 percent of leagues -- is shooting less than 40 percent since the beginning of January. Depending on your positional needs, the 97 percent-available Matt Bonner, who's averaging 2.7 treys over his past six games, could be a better option. In any event, this is another challenging schedule, as the Mavs', Cavs' and Blazers' opponents are all in the bottom third in 3s made.
Some quick tips for owners in daily leagues. Recommendations -- start, sit or add -- are made for specific days of the coming week, based on the schedule.
Steve Blake, PG, Trail Blazers (@HOU, @SA, @MIN, SA): If you need 3s, you can probably find them in free agency. Finding a distance shooter with a favorable Week 18 schedule is another matter. Still, of the available options, Blake is up there on my list. With his average of 2.1 3s, the Portland point guard rates slightly ahead of Mo Williams, O.J. Mayo and Jason Richardson (among many others). He also gives you nearly five assists and a low turnover rate. Not bad for a guy who's available in more than 90 percent of leagues. And, after missing 13 of 14 games with a separated shoulder before returning this week, Blake finally seems healthy. Again though, this schedule is unkind: Rockets and Spurs opponents are 28th and 27th in 3s made.
Mike Conley, PG, Grizzlies (@CLE, @IND, OKC): Lowry's departure seals it: Conley is the Grizzlies' point guard of the present and the future. In February he's averaging 14.5 points, 6.0 assists and 45.3 percent shooting, with a steal and a 3 thrown in. Conley's availability is shrinking, but he can still be had in about 85 percent of leagues. While Week 18 gives you the luxury of passing on borderline starters with three games, Conley should be OK against this schedule. Thunder opponents are fifth in shooting percentage, while Pacers opponents are fourth in 3-pointers.
Andres Nocioni, SF/PF, Kings (NO, CHA, LAC, @Utah): While the Kings own the league's worst record, Sacramento might not be a bad landing spot for Nocioni. Look at it this way: Rather than spin him to another team ahead of the trade deadline, the cash-strapped Kings kept Nocioni, even though he's owed $21 million through 2012. He's expected to share time at small forward with the also-deserving Francisco Garcia, given that level of commitment, though I figure Nocioni ultimately has the upper hand in minutes here. In his career, the 29-year-old Argentine averages 13.9 points, 6.1 boards and 1.3 3s as a starter. That'll work in plenty of leagues. This isn't a great week to test the waters with Noc, a free agent in nearly 70 percent of leagues, but the Hornets do yield their share of 3s. And then there are the Clippers, who've allowed 136.0 points over their past three games.
Vladimir Radmanovic, SF/PF, Bobcats (@PHO, @SAC, @GS, @LAC): This makes two straight Forecaster appearances for him, but why not? In four games with the Cats, Radmanovic is averaging 15.3 points and 3.0 3s. And you'll never find a better week to add the 97 percent-available Radman than the one ahead. The Warriors', Kings', Suns' and Clippers' opponents are first, second, fifth and sixth in points.
Delonte West, PG/SG, Cavaliers (MEM, @HOU, @SA, @ATL): After missing 15 games with a fractured right wrist, West is expected to return to the Cavs' lineup this weekend. Though he averages just 12.3 points, I think West, at 81 percent availability, is undervalued given his contributions in 3s (1.8 per game) and steals (1.5 per game). Still, with the Grizzlies', Rockets', Spurs' and Hawks' opponents all rating as average to below average in 3s and steals, it wouldn't hurt to give West a week to get back into shape.
Lou Williams, PG, 76ers (@NJ, @WAS, @NY, ORL): Is Williams the next Nate Robinson? Lou, of course, will never have Krypto-Nate's hops. But I'm thinking of how badly Robinson was struggling with his shot last month, and I'm wondering if Williams, who's in a big-time slump now, can emerge the way Nate-Rob has. If you're in a deep league and you're looking for a sneaky play, consider the 93 percent-available Williams. For one thing, after shooting less than 45 percent in 11 of his past 12 games, he's due. Then there's this schedule: The Wizards' and Knicks' opponents are second and third in shooting percentage, while Nets opponents are third in 3-pointers made.
Neil Tardy is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
Neil Tardy previews the 18th week of the NBA season for fantasy, noting that Marquis Daniels should have a big week for the Pacers.